At Pop-Up Magazine Shows, No Recordings Allowed

A blank magazine.
iStockphoto.com

Magazines, documentaries and art are usually meant to be preserved to live on in time. But a group in San Francisco has decided that art, if ephemeral, may be appreciated in a different way.

The group created Pop-Up Magazine, a live magazine that happens once onstage, in one place — and it's not recorded.

Editor Douglas McGray says the idea came from trying to get different kinds of artists in the same room.

"The reason we started it was we felt that filmmakers have their film openings, and artists will have gallery openings, and writers will have their readings. And we're never at the same things together," McGray tells NPR's Robert Siegel. "We thought about the idea of a live magazine as a way to bring these different communities together and bring their communities of fans together."

So, for Pop-Up Magazine, documentary filmmakers, writers, radio producers, photographers and artists present their work to an audience live onstage — about 20 stories in 90 minutes. McGray says the stories are very short. The shortest they've ever done was 17 seconds — and they run up to 5 or 6 minutes.

"You find that that's enough time to tell a rich story or profile a person or explain an idea," he says.

Sometimes the artists will perform without any props, but there is a large screen at the back of the stage that can display film. They'll also sometimes incorporate voices or sounds or musical accompaniment.

The magazine is edited and has a table of contents. McGray says the staff reaches out to "potential contributors we admire" to put on the show.

"Once we figure out what makes sense to do onstage, sometimes we'll collaborate really closely and figure out how we can encourage someone to experiment with different forms," he says. "We'll have a radio producer who will decide that they're going to try out using some Super 8 film or using some images. Or we'll have an illustrator who will get paired with someone who works in sound."

And, of course, there is no record that the performances ever happened. The staff, McGray says, doesn't even have secret recordings or photographs.

"When I think back to old issues and think fondly of moments that were really terrific," he says. "I'm just remembering them."

So far, McGray says, Pop-Up Magazine has received great feedback about the concept.

"I find that people watch a thing differently when it really is going to happen once. You can't share the link to your favorite story — you're going to have to retell it yourself. You can't go back and watch it later. I think you focus in a different way, I think you remember in a different way. I like the way it makes peoples' brains work," he says. "People, when they come and when the lights go down, they feel like they're about to see something special precisely because it's only going to happen once."

McGray is careful to say that the performances are not a negative reaction to technology.

"All of us are online," he says. "All of us are on social media, and [in] a lot of ways the huge audience for this show has been built on social media. These are great ways to connect and to share ideas and to meet people. It's also just nice to unplug and come together for a night and do something that's different."

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